The horizontal camming hex placement is now something of an ‘old-school’ technique. But it’s one that’s well worth knowing about.
The humble ‘hex’ was once a mainstay of the rock climber’s protection rack. With the advent of more modern cams, it has lost some of its purpose and, it seems, a lot of popularity.
It’s now a ‘marmite’ piece of equipment. Some people love the cow-bell jangling sound as it gives a little comfort on lonely mountain routes. Others loathe the sound, finding it distracting, and condemn the hex to the category of bumbly beginner’s kit.
But the hex still has its place and some of the ‘old-school’ techniques are still worth knowing about. The horizontal camming hex placement is one of these tricks.
Advantages of a hex placement over a cam
There are still good reasons to carry a set of hexes. This will depend on who you are, what you climb and when. Here are some advantages that a hex has over a cam:
- Cost – A typical hex (for example the DMM Torque Nut) costs around a quarter of the cost of a typical cam. On cost alone, this makes them a good choice for a budget-conscious climber (for example when first starting out). They are also a better choice if an item of gear needs to be abandoned in retreat.
- Slippery rock – A camming unit needs a split second of friction to bite the rock when it is loaded. In slippery rock, the cam can slide out before it has gripped the rock and exerted its camming force. Think carefully about using cams on limestone, for example.
- Icy rock – For the same reason, in winter mountaineering a cam can be a risky choice. A hex placement will be much less prone to slipping out (once placed carefully).
- Flakes – A loaded cam exerts a huge amount of outward force. This is typically 2-3 times the load applied in the direction of the stem. If placed behind a weak, friable flake of rock, a loaded cam could break the flake clean off. In a situation like this, a hex placement would be much better.
- ‘Walking’ – Cams are know for ‘walking’ into cracks. They can potentially jam themselves in or drop out of the placement if the crack widens at the back. A hex placement would be a better choice if there is a risk of a critical cam placement being compromised in this way if it is out of sight.
Horizontal camming hex placement
Many climbers will know how to place a hex in a vertically-oriented crack. Fewer know how it can be used to great effect in a horizontal crack.
As the pictures show, you can slide a hex into a horizontal crack from the side. The crack may be wider at this point. Then you move the hex sideways (and usually forwards a little) until it has maximum contact with the rock.
The key to creating the camming action is having the sling (or wire) of the hex exiting from the upper half. When loaded, this will cause the hex to rotate down at the front and up at the back. This rotation only locks it into the rock more firmly. If the hex is placed differently so that the tape exits from the lower half, almost no camming force is exerted. In the worst case the hex may simply be pulled out of the placement forwards.